History of the Black Heritage Series Stamps
Clarence L. Irving, Sr.
The Black Heritage Series, initiated by the United States Postal Service (USPS) in 1978, recognizes the achievements of prominent African Americans and has featured outstanding individuals such as Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson, Sojourner Truth, Mary McLeod Bethune, Langston Hughes, Thurgood Marshall, and Barbara Jordan who helped shape American culture through their involvement in science, technology, medicine, education, the arts, sports, government, and social activism. The idea for the series was born at a Queens County, New York, Bicentennial meeting in the Queens Central Library in 1975, with a proposal by Clarence L. Irving, Sr., chairman and founder of the Black American Heritage Foundation. Mr. Irving lived from August 21, 1924 to March 24, 2014. In 1976, Irving drafted a proposal, and working with Dr. Robert D. Parmet, professor of history at York College of The City University of New York; former New York State Senator Karen Burstein (1973-1978); and then-Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, he presented the plan to then-Rep. Joseph Addabbo (1961-1983), a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee dealing with the Postal Service. The initiative was designed to honor Black women as part of the Bicentennial celebration of the United States. Two years later in 1978, the USPS created a completely new series commemorating Black Americans, with Harriet Tubman of the famous Underground Railroad chosen as the first historical figure to start the Black Heritage Series. Tubman was the first African-American woman to appear on a U. S. postage stamp. The first African American ever honored on a U. S. postage stamp was Booker T. Washington in 1940 as a part of the "Famous Americans Series."
Today, what started at the Queens Library years ago has become the longest-running commemorative stamp series in U. S. history and is sought after by collectors worldwide. The first stamps were illustrated in color, however beginning in 1996 with the 32¢ Ernest E. Just stamp, the designs were based on a monochromatic photograph as the principal design element with subtle coloring added. In 2005 with the 37¢ Marian Anderson stamp, artwork returned to color illustrations. The 2012 John H. Johnson stamp again uses a photograph, although this time in color.
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For more information about Clarence L. Irving, Sr.:
The American Philatelic Society has free downloadable album pages for the Black Heritage Series available. at